Food and pub sectors get indigestion on growth fears

MARKET REPORT

The high-flying pub and restaurant companies, which have comfortably outperformed, could soon find themselves slipping from the stock market's growth menu.

Figures from Pelican, the restaurant group, and Yate's Wine Lodges, confirmed trading is getting tougher with demand for new sites squeezing up the cost of expansion.

Rank Organisation, the nation's biggest leisure group, underlined the pressure on recreational spending when it reported restaurant trading below last year's levels.

Perhaps not surprising, then, that the catering high-flyers should be dragged from their elevated bar stools. Rank set the tone, off 33p at 498p. Pelican dived 11.5p to 144p and Yates shaded 3p to 385p.

Elsewhere Grosvenor Inns stumbled 10p to 265p; Regent Inns 24p to 196p and JD Wetherspoon 48p to 990p.

Groupe Chez Gerard was also mauled off 15p to 234p; Springwood, the Fatty Arbuckle theme pub chain, fell 5p at 718p.

Away from the smoked salmon, oriental chicken and pint of beer agenda the market was in a dour mood with the FT-SE 100 index off 16.7 points at 3,678.8. The second-liners continued their unrelenting retreat, with the FT-SE 250 index off 24.4 points at 4,340.9.

Asda's much-in-line profit performance left the shares 4p off at 114p and Boots's pounds 300m buyback at 580p came as no surprise, with the price a shade lower at 580p.

BTR rallied from its recent low point, achieving a 5p gain to 255p, and fellow conglomerate struggler Hanson managed to edge ahead 3p to 179p.

Danka Business Systems gave up a further 20p to 470p as the market struggled to accommodate the unexpectedly downbeat trading statement and Cardinal Business fell 8p to 24.5p after reporting increased losses and the sale of its office products side for pounds 6.3m.

Sun Life & Provincial, the new issue flop, continued to let down its supporters. In busy trading the shares fell another 1.5p to 221p, leaving once again a yawning 14p gap from the flotation price.

United Utilities, up 9p at 539p, was helped by James Capel support and speculation of a US deal.

Talk is strong that a leading American utility is thinking of a merger or at least an in-depth trading link-up.

Camas, the building materials group, slipped 2.5p to 89.5p. Merrill Lynch is puzzled about the lack of positive news from a recent US jaunt. It looks for pounds 25.5m this year and pounds 28.5m for next. The shares peaked at 97p but Merrill says: "We are at a loss to explain this strength." The securities group admits bid speculation is in the air but believes the shares are a sell.

Magnum Power's increased loss left the shares nursing a 23p loss at 54p; the price touched 180p last year. The group's problems impacted on Memory Corporation, off 15p at just 75p. The shares of the repairer of defective computer chips have come down from 557p a year ago. It has already warned of the dire consequences of the slump in chip prices.

Worries about the signalled Carlsberg Tetley deal left Bass 5p down at 797p with Allied Domecq seeking yet another low, off 3p at 450p.

Scottish & Newcastle, figures next week, ignored supportive NatWest Securities comments, losing 3p to 652p.

Christies International, the fine arts auctioneer, had a difficult session, falling 8p to 214p. Joseph Lewis, the Bahamas-based investor, continues to sit on a near-30 per cent stake although stories flow that he is looking to sell.

Mr Lewis has latched on other investment opportunities, Union, the financial group, and English National, an investment trust. He has established a reputation as a long-term investor but the dull performance of Christies must be testing his patience. The market suspects he is looking for a buyer; if he has to hang around much longer without realising a profit he could be tempted in to mounting a bid.

His involvement at Union, once the proud Union Discount Company of London, has also been unrewarding, prompting talk that his 16.7 per cent is available.

Whittard of Chelsea, the tea and coffee group, managed a strong debut, hitting 158p against a 148p placing, Body Shop International shaded 3p to 180p as Ian McGlinn, an original backer, trimmed his stake to 23.8 per cent.

Brent Walker fell 0.5p to 2.5p on stories it had dumped plans to float its Pubmaster subsidiary and was banking on a sale to a trade group or City-backed consortium.

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